Home  -  Back Issues  -  The Team  -  Contact Us
     Volume 7 Issue 45 | November 14, 2008 |

  Cover Story
  Current Affairs
  Writing the Wrong
  Follow Up
  Human Rights
  Making a Difference
  Sci Tech
  Star Diary
  Book Review

   SWM Home


When Streets Become Battlefields

Obaidur Rahman
Political rallies often end up blocking streets or becoming violent.

There is this joke where one states, “Is the country marching ahead?” And in response the other says, “Of course! Why else do you think we all have been pushed aside and stuck at the back?” A lot has been said regarding the nature of Bangladesh's politics. But little is said about the suffering of people every time political parties take over the streets, whether in the form of simple processions or their infamous hartals. The brutality that often takes place in the name of politics in our streets costs all of us very dearly and direly.

It is fairly understandable that the street plays a crucial role in politics as history lets us know that street happens to be the genuine parliament of the common people. But with the change of time the approach towards the street by the politicians have changed radically as the people have been replaced by party hooligans who would simply riot around the streets and eventually unleash a frenzy of rampage and destruction. Streets are chiefly for people to commute and the true sense of it must be established by letting people use them efficiently. But unfortunately the street culture of our political parties often tests our patience to the extreme as we find ourselves stuck for hours in a traffic jam all because of some activity of some political party. Most of these political processions claim to uphold the people's rights but the irony is that what they actually do is deprive the ordinary citizen's basic right to move freely on the streets

Imagine your loved one being stuck in an ambulance and in need of desperate medical care or you are late for an exam or even the most important interview of your career or you are uncertain when your child will come back home from school. The nuisance of political gatherings in public places has habitually victimised citizens all over the country, exposing them often to great physical and psychological trauma while dragging down the city life to a virtual standstill. From the political point of view, it is understandable that they have the right to hold political jamborees but what about our rights? Don't we have the rights to move hassle free, punctually and above all, in safety? It is utterly frustrating to see that the self declared guardians of our rights jeopardize our very own privilege in order to fulfill their party agenda.

And what are the odds that a procession would end up in carnage here in Bangladesh? Well, given the history and tolerance level of our national leaders, the transformation of such is perhaps inevitable. We have witnessed over the years how the country's political culture has evolved; whenever party activities take to the streets as meetings and procession, they have ended up into violent clashes where ultimately, the ordinary, law-biding citizens become the victims. What could political parties possibly be trying to establish by instigating destruction of public properties, smashing up car windows, burning up vehicles , demolishing private establishments and so on. Whenever there is a slightest hint of political activities in the streets it is the fear of our very own lives and property that goes through our minds because very regrettably the militant attitude of our political activists have been jeopardizing the peace and stability of our civic lives for generations. This is certainly no exaggeration because political violence has certainly cost us many lives of our dear ones, turned our means of livelihoods to rubble and forced our families enduring days in terror and great uncertainty simply because our political parties are yet to resolve their differences in a civilised manner. And the examples of such are in plenty to back these up.

Violence has always been part of the political culture.

And along with the vindictive nature of street level political activities, there are numerous controversies surrounding these meetings and picketing and how they are organised. Research has shown that most of the faces that we see in the political meetings or in their other disruptive activities are basically recruits from the poor communities from all over the country who receive a small sum of money (usually around Tk.150-300) for their contribution in the organised chaos. Now here is the funny thing, if the majority of such participants are lured into political meetings and if there are thousands of people in that meeting, then doesn't that mean that majority of them are in desperate need on that tiny amount which vividly reflects the country's true economic realities?

As for hartals, well any citizen who is a patriot, can't support something like hartal and truly seek ways to carry out political activities in a manner that would add misery to the public life. Hartal has definitely lost all its credibility and economically speaking, the related political violence has lead to the loss of millions of dollars. According to one study by BGMEA, the nation loses US$18 million a day during hartal. Now multiply this amount with all the hartals that have taken place in the last 20 years (for example) and then add all the monetary losses in the other sectors due to violent political activities. The result is an immense financial burden for a poor nation like us.

There has to be a better way to do politics.

Interestingly, when the overseas branches of our political parties carry out any protests or processions, they do it in a very civilised manner where most of their chanting and slogans take place gently on some pavement and the party leaders and workers remain very respectful towards other people and their properties. How come they can't do the same here in Bangladesh? The way it is carried out here in Bangladesh, it seems that they are almost getting some kind of pleasure out of putting ordinary citizens into misery. What truly provokes such carnage and devastation of this level and what is it that leads to such absence of ethics and values? The bitter truth is that there is a growing frustration amongst the youth of the society, who are often in despair due to the lack of opportunities that could allow them to lead better lives. And over time this despair turns into aggression and the frustrations are replaced by blinding rage and sadly they wind up being misguided by a few crooked political leaders who simply capitalise on their frustration.

Article 37 of our Constitution states that every citizen has the right to assemble and participate in public events however in a peaceful manner where noone can carry any lethal weapons. The political parties perhaps need to relate to this Article of the National Constitution and incorporate it into their own constitutions. Since there are many different political parties with different ideologies, maybe it is impossible for them to resolve their differences and as citizens it might be too much to ask from our leaders. However, stress needs to be given more on coming up with thorough solutions to the political problems which can be done in a nonviolent manner. Instead of turning our streets into battlefields, our leaders should prioritize on fruitful dialogue and maybe the latter will assist them in regaining the genuine admiration from the ordinary citizen once again.

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2008